Books I’ve Been Reading 1

I had an intro here, but I deleted it on grounds of this being self-explanatory.


The Obsidian and Blood Trilogy:
* Servant of the Underworld
* Harbinger of the Storm
* Master of the House of Darts
all by Aliette de Bodard

Murder mysteries set in a world where everything the Aztecs believed in is real. I powered through this trilogy in two days, which should tell you that I loved them. At least in this case that’s what it should tell you.

The setting is brilliant. The characters are complex and interesting. The writing is very accessible and the style is clear — I mention that because I came into it wondering if the unusual setting meant the book would be more difficult to get into, but I’ve found most standard Tolkienesque fantasy harder to get into than this.

My main issue is that the three books really don’t seem like enough for this world and these stories. They really don’t. Yes, there’s a strong thematic arc, strong character arcs, and the plot is sufficiently resolved… but it doesn’t feel like enough. I’d love to read a sequel.


The Chaos by Nalo Hopkinson

An apparently bog-standard urban fantasy that isn’t remotely bog-standard. The setting is excellent, with various folkloric elements combined with original fantastic elements, including one of the best otherworldly pseudo-hallucination sequences I’ve read. Really neat characters who manage to be realistically teenager-y and flawed yet sympathetic and likeable. Lots of queer stuff! Which is even more awesome in a YA book. The frank discussion of sexuality is also a plus.

I actually read this one a few weeks ago now, but it stuck in my head enough that I wanted to mention it. It’s really good, just be forewarned that it’s way too short and as far as I know there’s no sequel coming.

As with the Obsidian & Blood trilogy, I would love to be proven wrong — and I’d probably be more okay with The Chaos’ short length retroactively if a sequel were showing up.


Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

Loved this one too. Another murder mystery — solving the death of a god. First book of a trilogy. More great world-building. Technically, this is high fantasy, set in a (steampunk-ish?) secondary world as it is. But it’s more down-to-earth (surprisingly), more realistic, and has a much better plot and a much better protagonist than the vast majority of high fantasy. She (the protagonist, not the plot) is a high-powered wizard-type (which is always my favorite) and a lawyer. Yeah, this is a fantasy legal thriller. It works really well.

This one also definitely needed a sequel… which Google tells me is being released in four days, holy shit! ….Admittedly neither the plot summary nor the new protagonist really interest me (no mention of the old protagonist — I liked her! and her mentor! where are they?), but I enjoyed the first book enough that I’m definitely going to snap up the second one.


World War Z by Max Brooks

Zombie apocalypse. This one I basically read because a friend of mine is reading it.

The book earns extra points for trying to cover many major countries across the world, first off. Although I was weirded out by the special emphasis of South Africa… of ALL the countries in Africa to pick. Eh. And the portrayals of other countries are not un-problematic… but now this is sounding like a backhanded compliment.

Also, extra points for having more than one woman involved in the military (as it’s a military-centric novel) and more than one woman playing a key role in the plot. Honestly that should be taken for granted, but since they can’t be, it still earns plus points.

Still, though, there aren’t that many female characters, which is kind of weird. I don’t think it gets close to the 25% mark. Which I fail to understand. I mean, it’s cool that you’ve got more than one or two good female characters, but was that really all you had ‘room’ for? Also, no mention of female leaders that I remember. Eh.

The book makes some other unfortunate choices and iffy parts that I won’t get into here. There are also some parts that are just very, very silly. On the other hand, other parts are really creative and clearly demonstrate how much research was put into most of the book.

Here’s another thing, though:

Why do so many people love zombies so much?

I just do not get it. I cannot help but find zombies extremely boring. Mindless hordes of walking dead things… the mindless hordes *I’m* afraid of sling hate speech and wield social control and vote hateful people into political office and restrict rights and invade bedrooms and kill brown people and police genitalia and women’s bodies.

Zombies just eat you. Really inefficiently. That’s much, much less terrifying.

I thought World War Z was pretty okay — sometimes compelling, sometimes meh, sometimes off-putting — but perhaps I would have liked it better if I actually liked zombies at all.


These were all originally going to be just a few lines each. Looks like that plan went out the window.

Other books I’ve read & re-read in the past few months, but not recently:

* The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins — this was a re-read, and I’m a pretty huge fan of this book. Such a compelling voice! Still haven’t read the sequels or seen the movie. Need to do that.
* Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn — I’m a huge fan of this author. This book was uncomfortable to read, and not at all my favorite subject matter, but it’s just so goddamn well-written. Flynn never ceases to be fantastic.
* [REDACTED TITLES] — two fantasy books in a new series, titles redacted because while I enjoyed them, I thought the writing was honestly pretty bad, and while I really liked some elements, others were kind of shit. But this is an up-and-coming fantasy author, which is a position I want to be in someday soon, so I can’t bring myself to dump too hard on their book, even mixed with praise.
* [REDACTED TITLE] — generic thriller with above-average writing, which I read based on the opening. Way too much damsel-in-distress. REALLY shitty main character. Initially compelling assassin character who gets more generic as the story proceeds, which is a bummer.
* Octavia Butler’s Patternist series: Patternmaster, Mind of My Mind, Survivor, Wild Seed, Clay’s Ark — this is a re-read of a series I’d never totally finished, including one of the two books that inspired me to write speculative fiction as a kid: Wild Seed. (The other being The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe; much more expected.) Even more brilliant than I remembered. (Also a huge fan of Octavia Butler, in case that wasn’t clear…) I wish there were more entries to the series. Actually I mainly wish that Butler was immortal and hadn’t died and could write forever. 😦
* Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke — Too long. Loved it. Worth the read. I spent the whole read thinking it was too long to truly pay off at the end, and I was wrong. Oh, was I wrong. Holy shit.


Old Shame, New Shame

Ahahahahaha. Man, one of the downsides to having been on the internet since 2001 (and I was a latecomer for my age group) is that I said some regrettable and/or truly crappy things that are enshrined forever.

For example. Out of curiosity, I googled my old screenname plus “racism” and the name of the forum name where I used to hang out. Just as a random pull from the hat. This is what I found in the first result…

SETUP: Someone links an article pointing out that there is racism in Lord of the Rings. (2003)

Now, apparently the article was kind of bullshit itself — it was written by a white dude who apparently decide Uruk-hai were Native American caricatures, which I think we can safely say is untrue. But the central point — that there is racism, and a lot of it, in LotR — remains true.

MY RESPONSE: “Of course all the heroes are white, it’s set in England!!! They’re just looking for attention anyway.”

I said this in 2003. Ten years ago. But even back in March of this year, I made a “lite” version of the same argument…

SETUP: Debate about why queer inclusion matters in fiction. (2013)

MY RESPONSE: I think most of what I said holds up, but:

* I delved into apologetics about how an author can’t have problematic misogynist elements to their work if they also have awesome female characters. Which is a bullshit argument. Whoops.
* I gave Tolkien a little too much credit, along the lines of “Tolkien’s worldview didn’t include gays, therefore it was acceptably realistic that he didn’t have gays in his world.” Which, heh. Not really.
* And I outright repeated the nonsense about it being okay that Tolkien’s fantasy is lily white because lol English myth, except that this time I expressed that I didn’t like it. REALLY NOW, JAKE. Apparently ten years weren’t enough.
[Many reasons why that bullshit, but the first and most obvious is that Tolkien’s nonhuman villains are caricatures of people of color combined with fantasy monsters, and the human villains are almost all people of color.]
* Claiming it would be silly ask the writers of Game of Thrones for more queer characters because it’s a repressive patriarchal homophobic world. I doubt I need to explain why this is nonsense.

SETUP: Endless debates about evolution vs creationism. (2002)

MY RESPONSE: Endless, wanky debating on the side of creationism. I believed evolution occurred, but was insistent on remaining otherwise a creationist (I think by this point I’d just barely come out of the closet as bisexual and was still trying to come to terms with that, and really really wanted to stay a moderate-to-conservative Christian. Note — for those of you who don’t know me, that didn’t stick). I made a whole lot of really bad arguments, mainly based on “but you can’t proooooooove that God didn’t make everything!!!” Notably: “I never (consciously) tried to convince you that I was right, only that I wasn’t wrong.”
Also, I sure overused emoticons at the time. Jesus.
Bonus points for the memories: I was way, way, WAY in the closet about being genderqueer and bisexual/pansexual. My friends knew, but none of my friends online were ever to know…

There are plenty of other crappy (and not-so-crappy) things I said on that forum.

…And that’s not the only forum I’ve been incredibly active at. More recent — and current — is the SCP Foundation. I’ve poured so many words into that sight, and a good number of them were ill-advised.

Here’s one…

SETUP: Our application required users to put their gender in there. One of our admins decided to deny the applications of anyone who put anything besides “M” or “F”, effectively getting rid of genderqueers who (unlike me) aren’t comfortable with male or female pronouns.

MY RESPONSE: Rage, basically, and I led the charge to change this. (After a struggle of a year long to even get it noticed as a problem.) But also in an effort to fit in with everyone else, I referred to being genderqueer as “having gender issues”. Fortunately, I was called out immediately for it, and the embarrassment of that actually pushed me out of the closet on that site as being genderqueer myself. So… it ended well for me, really, but nonetheless.

Now, heh. That’s undoubtedly not the worst thing I’ve said on that site, but it’s the one I remember the most, due to the “decloseting” effect it had on me. I’m sure there’s much worse, but that site is already currently discouraging me, so I’ll lay off further dissecting myself in that area… for now.

(Post inspired by accidentally discovering the Sordid Internet Past of a blogger whom I admire, who on their part has chosen not to acknowledge it, and therefore neither shall I, particularly as I found out about it via the forum posts of someone who was basically e-stalking them. Regardless, as should be clear above… I can understand old shame.)

The last few days…

I have spent the last few days, with little sleep, trying to iron out fantasy species in my world’s setting.

I’ve spent well over a decade working on this novel in some capacity or another, and yet I discovered while rewriting the novel that I had some severe issues with how these work.

Namely, that they were just thrown in there, basically. The most thought I put into this beforehand was sitting down half a decade ago and putting together a design document that made me feel very subversive at the time and now looks paper-thin at best.

Actually, scratch that. Not so much “and yet” — me discovering this now is possibly BECAUSE I’ve been working on this so long, which means I’ve had to literally learn to write from scratch along the way. Literally, since when I started, I could only draw, and the original concepts were based on Super Kewl character designs I scribbled in some notebooks once upon a time.

Still, though. I never thought I’d be losing sleep over elves and orcs. As for why… that’s a subject for another post.

VS Naipaul

I had just put some of VS Naipaul’s stuff on my reading list. Nobel laureate, right? Now I discover that he’s a sexist asshole.

Shit like this is so depressingly common. The only upside in this case is the recommendation of excellent female authors in the comments to that linked article…

Also, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that a Noble laureate is a sexist asshole, considering most books actually reviewed are written & reviewed by men, and the vast, vast majority of Nobel prizes are awarded to men.


This blog post crossed my radar today:

The fact is that for every Slacktivist, there are a dozen hacks sporking Twilight because everyone else was doing it, bringing nothing new to the table and often seeming ignorant of what actually makes literature good or bad and of the fact that one can also write positive reviews talking about the ways in which something is good.

Now, I love takedowns. I love writing takedowns. But this makes me sort of glad that my public takedowns are mostly live on the internet anymore. If you’re curious, I’ll save you the trouble: they’re fairly boring, and mostly hilariously unfinished. And, shit, at one point I myself almost wrote yet another Twilight takedown. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The fact that I probably had nothing new to bring to the table didn’t seem like much of a downside. Such is hubris.

It doesn’t help that as I gradually become a better writer, flaws in my earlier posts become gratingly obvious, and that becomes a little hypocritical if said flawed earlier posts were all about harshly criticizing the flaws of others.

Perhaps any future reviews / analyses of mine should emphasize my own learning process? Food for (my own) thought.

An Observation On Time Travel Fiction

The concept of “historical inertia” or “Fate” — ie, the idea you can’t change the past, because history or time or fate or whatever ‘wants’ certain things to happen – is an absurdly awful one.

It’s a pretty useful narrative convenience, don’t get me wrong, but the net result is that you’re implying that the way history has gone so far is the way that it SHOULD have gone, naturalizing our current racist, patriarchal… kyriarchal general setup. And all the atrocities that happened as well, including the ones that didn’t really change anything but just happened and were forgotten (aka the vast majority of them). “Oh, that’s how things were meant to have gone.” Straight cis white males were meant to be in charge. Western dominance is just the natural, correct result of history.


Slightly off-point: The only time I see the issue of atrocities addressed is the Holocaust, and generally people take the easy way out of “well, but it had a huge impact on the world’s psyche that could help prevent worse things from happening!” Well, okay. But what about all the untold countless numbers of human beings that suffered and died and are ignored or forgotten? There’s no conceivable (good) reason that all that could be “meant” to happen.

The Vanishing

I dropped off most of my goals for the last month. Including posting on this blog. Yikes.

Today is my birthday. I’m using this as an opportunity – along with a trip out of state that covered the last week – to break some patterns I have. Maybe I’ll even shift my goals – maybe not. Not sure yet. Though what I am sure of is that I’m gonna start treating sleep differently… because that’s been the major thing getting in the way of my productivity. As always, we’ll see how this work out.

In the meantime, I’m gonna go have a birthday. :]